I found Slave (Finding Anna Book 1) thanks to Nix at Scorching Book Reviews from a Goodreads review. I have never read any other novels by Sherri Hayes, but based on this book I might pick up a few of her other books.
Special Note: I am not an expert on BDSM and have no experience in which to determine if this was the best course of action in this story.
Stephan is a Dominant whose friend, Darren, asks him to lunch and then tells him that there is a slave in a Master/slave (M/s) relationship that is not there willingly. Darren requests that Stephan purchase her as he has no submissive currently and has enough status and funding to take her off this man’s hands. Stephan reluctantly agrees, and once he observes Brianna’s desperate situation he feels compelled to take care of her. Now that he has her though, she obviously is not merely psychologically damaged, but broken. What can he do to heal her and is it even possible?
Reading Nix’s review first, I came into this story understanding that this was a darker book, more about the psychology of a M/s, not just a Dominant/submissive (D/s) relationship and less about “sexy fun time kink”. In fact, there is no sex in this book. I also was prepared for the fact that this was a “part 1” book and that we would have some resolution, but the ending is not typical HEA. I think there is enough information here for us to get a complete second book as she wraps up some plotlines.
From what I have read (albeit from mostly romance books but I do trust some of the authors like Tymber Dalton’s The Reluctant Dom and Cherise Sinclair’s The Dom’s Dungeon) there is a difference between a M/s and a D/s relationship. In the above two examples, the slave/sub benefits emotionally from the structure of the relationships that a vanilla one would not satisfy. Both types of relationships can be filled with love, but the M/s are a 24/7 lifestyle while in the D/s relationship the BDSM might only be situational, like at the club or in the bedroom. The key to both types of relationship is the word “Consensual”. Both parts are there because they desire it and even the slave can leave the relationship at any time.
In this story, our female lead, Brianna has been obviously “taken” by the sadistic Dom Ian (and not sadistic in the good way). There is no ability to leave. It is clear (although we only see evidence, not the actions) that she has been repeatedly raped, tortured, and been malnourished, both in body and spirit. Stephan realizes that Brianna is a broken human being. So the question becomes, can she even be repaired? Is any type of BDSM relationship (sexual or not) a good idea because of the previous abuse?
I do not want to go into too much detail of her history, as it would spoil much of the book’s pacing. Brianna must learn how to become self-aware again after having been in captivity for nearly a year.
One question that we have is if she is a natural submissive, or has she just been trained to avoid pain and punishment. Any person can be trained to behave “well” to avoid pain; it does not mean that they want to do an act. However, Brianna’s comment about the lion that she sees at a zoo to me matches what a submissive might find attractive about a Dom:
Each step was confident, predatory, and yet elegant, especially the male. The movement was like a dance but with music only they could hear.
It is hard to say if Brianna is a natural submissive because we only see her after slavery. Not to mention, she was 17 years old before, certainly young and most likely not experienced in her own sexual preferences. The above quote was a reflection of Brianna’s memories of her visits to the zoo with her mother and I take that she found these qualities admirable. But perhaps I am reading too much into the passage.
Stephan is a hero to me. He is an illustration of how someone can do an extraordinary thing that so many others would not step-up to do. If you are looking for a hot, dominant, sexy male, this guy is for you. When Stephan takes Brianna into his care, it quickly becomes evident that she needs the structure of a M/s relationship, not just a D/s one. To remove her from that constant and familiar aspect of the M/s world would have been cruel.
However, someone, including some characters from this book might think that Stephan is being unkind by “keeping” her as a slave. There are certainly psychologists that could help get her back some sort of “normal” path. Would it have worked? Perhaps. However, not only does keeping her help heal Anna, but it satisfies a need that Stephan has. This symbiotic balance is the cornerstone of a good relationship, no matter what setting.
Stephan does not know if she has anyone in which to return, certainly winding up as a sex slave at the age of 17 suggests that perhaps there is nowhere else where she could turn. Would it not be even crueler to send her away (where she would surely think she had done something wrong) in which she had nothing familiar? Consider what he says to her at some point through the book when he collars her:
“If you choose to wear this, you will be mine. Your needs, your wants, your well-being will belong to me. And you should know something else. I do not share. You will belong to me and only me for as long as you wear this.”
This to me is what she needs at this point. Structure and knowledge that she will not be just passed around like a toy. And note the phrase “if you choose”, demonstrating that this is a move from forced to consensual.
When I was a kid, we had a lot of animals, dogs especially. We had two golden retrievers “Buttah” (I could not say Buster) and Benny. Both were rescues and psychologically scarred. Buttah was a hunting dog and his former owners would take him out hunting at night and then flash a flashlight in his eyes. Whenever you would get a flashlight out he would just holler, shake, and run away. He also would go crazy if you tried to get him up on the bed. So what did we do? We took him as he was, accepted him with his limitations, never calling him a bad dog for things that he could not control. We slowly did get him to accept coming onto the bed for short periods of time, using love and snuggling as rewards.
My other dog, Benny had an even sadder story. Apparently the parents of a terribly spoiled child would give her animals; always cute puppies, kittens, bunnies, and then when they got out of their cute phase the child would lose interest and then discard them. We found Benny tied up to the back of an old truck where they left him, discarded and unloved. I will never forget how he looked when his owners took him off of the rope and he just leaped joyfully into the front of our truck, ready to go. When a thunderstorm would come, Benny would become anxious from the noise (we assumed that he was always tied up under the truck). These became opportunities for snuggle time that seemed to comfort and calm him. We never yelled at him for carrying on or for needing our love and attention in a storm.
What is the point of my stories? Sometimes it is best to help others heal by just accepting their limitations and working with them to get back into a functional, if not a “normal” human lifestyle. Anna is never going to be like who she was before her captivity; no therapy is going to magically remove the memories of trauma. What seems to work however is the structure and discipline of the M/s relationship. For them, it works. Maybe for someone else, it might not.
The author was not afraid to shy away from the hard scenes, but I never felt that they were there for sensationalism. Anna’s problems were not solved instantly, and while she is significantly better by the end of the book, she is not magically healed.
This book is in first person, but the chapters flip back and forth between our two main characters, allowing us into their minds. I do not think it would have worked as poignantly if we had not had those vantage.
What could be better?
Well, quite frankly, part of me just wanted Stephan to say at any point in the book, “you’re not a slave”. But, then it would probably have been a short book. Often a good plot development is the art of miscommunication or fear. If the soldier at the beginning of The Stand had not escaped out of the compound, the virus would never have spread and the book would have been very short indeed.
I also really wish we could have had a “happily ever after” ending. That is a personal preference, not a comment on the author’s writing quality. The ending was fitting for the point of the story. Otherwise, I really did not have any other suggestions for improvement. I am anxious for part 2 that comes out this summer.
This post is not here to discuss the validity or morality of the BDSM world. Slave is not for everyone. I think that if the BDSM lifestyle disturbs you, then you will not appreciate or enjoy this book. It is a book about the resilience of the human mind and heart, so there are times when we see a very damaged person.
However, if you are looking for a book that will open both your heart and your awareness, then this is the book for you. I just hope that if there are people who are out there in situations like this, that there are men like Stephan who can step up and be the type of man that they need.